Around 30 children flocked to seven tutors at the Harbor Lights condominiums last week to jump rope, partake in games, eat snacks and just talk story.
Although it looked like pure play, the children were being mentored and taught by University of Hawaii Maui College faculty and students, who offer the children structured play as well as instruction in English, which is a second language for many of them.
Laura Flemming of University of Hawaii Maui College (right) shares a story with Chabray Moniz, 7, one afternoon last week at Harbor Lights in Kahului.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
"They have been a great asset," Virginia Brown, general manager of the Harbor Lights Condominium, said of the tutors.
Many of the children are from working families where parents might not have much time to spend with their children, and many children have parents who speak a primary language other than English, Brown added.
"The attention they (the children) get is worth a million bucks," she said.
The Harbor Lights Mentorship program has been going on for around three years, said Laura Lees, an English instructor at UH-Maui College and one of the heads of the program.
Although the program was originally supposed to be geared for reading, what emerged was more of a mentoring and tutoring program. It has been recognized twice by the Corporation for National and Community Service's President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, program advisers said.
The honor roll is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to service learning and civic engagement.
The children think the program is a hit, too.
"We want to do jump-rope," said Alje Kajle, a 5th-grader, who used to live at Harbor Lights and returned last week for a visit. "They are really great teachers, and they are fun to play with."
Tutor Kalena Pelekai agrees that it is fun for mentors as well as for the children.
Although last semester Pelekai, a freshman, was involved with the program as part of service learning, this time she's doing it for love.
Service learning is a UH systemwide program that is usually offered by instructors as an option in place of a research project, paper or examination, or offered as extra credit, its Web site said.
"This semester, I'm just doing it to play with the kids," said Pelekai, a liberal arts major. "It's really fun. We do help them with their homework sometimes."
Sophomore Rena Tamura was also enjoying the company of the children as she played the game Connect Four with a 6-year-old.
She said the program gives the children something to do rather than just running around with nothing structured to engage in.
"For me, it's giving back to the community," said Tamura, who is majoring in business technology.
English instructor Elisabeth Armstrong, also one of the program heads, read to two girls and said that the children look forward to their visit each week.
She feels that the tutors can provide a positive influence on the students, noting that they are taught manners and all know how to say please and thank you. The children also know that they need to clean up their play areas before they get their snack.
Lees said the program is conducted every Tuesday for about an hour in the afternoon. Around 50 children turn out and range in age from 4 to 10, although sometimes teens show up, which tutors don't mind at all.
With its connections at the neighboring college, the program has brought in art, drama and dental students to work with the children. Sometimes the college students receive credit for their participation, Lees said.
It's a learning experience for both the children and the college students. Lees said having the students mentor and tutor the children sometimes breaks down the stereotyped image that college students may have about the condominium complex.
The community is aware of the complex's share of crime and problems over the years, which residents and managers have been working to improve.
In the future, Lees and others, such as Brown, would like to make the program more official and structured by conducting it daily, with help from nonprofit groups.
The program now relies on grants and donations, Lees said.
Molli Fleming, service learning coordinator at the college, is the other head of the Harbor Lights Mentorship program.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.